'National' glory awaits Red Rocco
Published 02/02/2013 | 16:06
Nonetheless, from a betting perspective, a busy card that features two competitive handicaps in the Welsh Champion Hurdle and West Wales Grand National just about shades the fare on offer at Wetherby and Sandown.
A dour stayer, the game 10-year-old previously ground out a fine win off a career-high mark of 155 in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle, so he is not without a chance now that he reverts to more realistic company off 158.
At each-way odds of around 7/1, Conor O'Farrell's mount should certainly give you a better run for your money than many of his 11 rivals.
Alfie Spinner also has some appeal. Nick Williams' charge tends to keep good company, so he is another that will be suited by this drop in class. However, as a horse with a poor win ratio, the fear is that the Daryl Jacob-ridden eight-year-old may find one too good again.
The hat-trick-seeking Red Rocco has been installed the 4/1 market leader by the sponsors. At those odds, the suspicion is that he still represents genuine value.
Don McCain's six-year-old has been highly progressive over fences this term, finding only Emma Lavelle's smart Highland Lodge too good on his chasing bow at Towcester in November.
On his latest start at Kelso, he did what was required to land a middling three-runner heat, but his Newcastle handicap triumph prior to that was especially encouraging.
Over three miles in heavy ground, Red Rocco made all under Jason Maguire, jumping boldly and digging deep to prevail by two lengths.
Since then, the runner-up Fentara has done her bit for the form by hacking up at Kelso, likewise the fourth, Same Difference, at Leicester.
The third, No Planning, went down by less than a length off the same mark next time, while the distant fifth, Netminder, improved to be second in an Ayr contest in which the third home has since won.
All told, then, Red Rocco's form is immensely progressive and a mark that is five pounds higher here might not be nearly enough to stall his ascent under Henry Brooke.
Nicky Henderson's Lanzarote Hurdle hero Oscara Dara heads the betting for the Champion Hurdle, but is of little interest off a stone higher rating at as low as 7/2. In truth, the two-and-a-half-mile contest is wide open, with each of the 14 runners holding some sort of chance.
Although he excels over further, El Dancer is the one to keep on side at up to 14/1. In his last four starts, the Lucy Wadham-trained son of Seattle Dancer has won once and been second three times, while he also ran well for a long way when eighth at Cheltenham in November.
In heavy ground over two miles and five furlongs at Newbury last time, he produced an absolutely storming effort to fall by just a quarter of a length to African Gold. The duo pulled a few lengths clear of the rest, so it was a valiant performance in defeat from El Dancer.
A five-pound penalty leaves him on 138 now, which is still less than the career-high 145 that he achieved in the past.
With conditions set to ensure that this is a proper test of stamina, El Dancer ought to be bang there fighting out the finish for Leighton Aspell once again.
Representing the Co Cork-born partnership of Jonjo O'Neill and Richie McLernon, he has worn blinkers or visors just three times, scoring on each occasion when he sported them this season.
At Kempton last time, he ran really sweetly to triumph by six lengths, with the reopposing Brackloon High, a winner since, 18 lengths behind in fifth. Politeo, fourth then, also hacked up at Wincanton on Thursday, so the theory is that a 13lb hike in the weights might not be enough to prevent Mister Hyde maintaining his 100pc record in headgear.
Best Bet: Mister Hyde